Fat biking on fat bikes (or fat tire bikes) is a new-ish winter sport gaining speed in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Basically, these things look like one of those silly Floridian water sport toys floating next to the ubiquitous banana boat: big, goofy tires and a frame that doesn’t quite seem in proportion.
Or, to explain it another way, a fat bike is basically a mountain bike with giant, boingy tires about three times the normal width of a mountain bike tire. Here’s a closer look:
Now, when we lived in sandy climes such as Tonga or even Balikpapan, we often wondered if fat bikes would be worth purchasing so that we could ride along the beach, but then we thought: Riding along the beach gets kind of boring, you know? Plus, a decent fatbike is a pricey investment.
It wasn’t until we made our recent move to wintery New Hampshire that the concept of fat bikes for winter sports came into play, and last weekend we had a chance to try these things out at Great Glen Trails. This place is gorgeous: In a nutshell, it’s an outdoor center at the base of Mt. Washington in Gorham, New Hampshire…. At the foot of the mountain touted as having the World’s Worst Weather. That’s right, folks. This is where we chose to move!
But back to Great Glen. This place is right off of Route 16 at Pinkham Notch (you can’t miss it) and comprises a large outdoor center housing a retail store, restaurant and rental shop (the latter being on the lower level). They have activities for any time of year, but in the winter, this is where to go for cross country skiing, skate-skiing, tubing, snow shoeing and fatbiking!
The fat bike and cross country trails are one and the same (you can see where they groom the trails for cross-country skiing in the photos below), and they are well marked on both a handy-dandy map you receive upon purchasing your trail pass, and on the trails themselves. The labyrinth of trails amounts to about 45 kilometers (almost 28 miles), but not all of them are groomed for skiing or cycling.
So what’s it like to fat bike?
At first, it feels a little strange. Not only are the tires soft and springy, but because of their larger size, it makes you sit higher up on the frame, thus throwing your center of gravity off. The person who helped fit us with our bikes advised not to raise ourselves off the seat when cycling uphill due to this, or else we could easily lose our balance and fall. I’m glad we took her advice. In fact, as I started climbing the first hill, I could see exactly what she was talking about.
The other big difference between fat biking and mountain biking is that it’s much harder to climb; even propelling forward gives more resistance. Due to the large, soft tires, you just don’t traverse the ground as efficiently. Shorter distances prove much more of a workout and even a slight incline was a bit of a challenge. Still, it was lots of fun and a great way to get outdoors and play in the snow!
Trail conditions for fat biking:
We were told the day we went that the trails were actually in optimal condition for fat biking, and I could see why once we got going. The ground was covered with snow, but packed down and a bit icy. A light dusting of snow was on top of this firmer base, thus providing enough grip for the tires without the trails being super soft.
Where to fat bike in the Gorham, NH area?
There are two main options for fat biking in Gorham. One is at Great Glen, of course (map of their trails is here), and the other option is made available courtesy of the Coos Cycling Club. They’ve created trails within the town of Gorham and at Moose Brook State Park! You can print out maps of the Coos Cycling Club trails here.
Coos Cycling Club website: https://cooscyclingclub.wordpress.com/
Great Glen Trails website and contact info: http://greatglentrails.com/
Mount Washington Auto Road
Gorham, New Hampshire 03581
Where to rent fat bikes in Gorham:
You can rent fat bikes either at Great Glen (about a ten-minute drive south from downtown Gorham) for a one-stop biking experience, as their rental shop is right next to their trails. If you are in downtown Gorham and want to try the Coos Cycling Club trails and don’t have a fat bike, check with White Mountain ATV Rental (in town). They may have fat bikes for rent.
If you arrive at Great Glen after 12:00 noon, ask if they offer a half-day rental fee. When we went (a couple of years ago now), we benefited from a half-day rental rate of $20 a person, which included the fat bike and helmet.
So grab a fat tire bike and give it a go!